DEAR MARTIN by Nic Stone

dear-martin-1So while Nic Stone’s first foray into the world of middle grade fiction left me feeling somewhat underwhelmed, I enjoyed aspects of it enough to leave me feeling like giving another of her books a shot. And wow am I glad I did. ⠀

Dear Martin is Nic Stone’s first published work, and where the writing in Clean Getaway feels stilted and hesitant, here it flows with a smooth, confident swagger. Which makes for a curious dichotomy: the prose is imminently readable, but the topics discussed are heavy, all too real and sometimes hard to read. But it’s a balance that Stone strikes splendidly.⠀⠀

Dear Martin follows Justyce McAllister, a brilliant student at an exclusive and privileged private school, whose life, at the start of the story, consists of excelling at school in order to get into the Ivy League, and trying to figure out a tumultuous relationship with his on-again/off-again/on-again girlfriend. Until one night, when trying to stop said girlfriend from driving home drunk, he is harassed by a racist cop who predictably assumes the worst. The experience leaves him shaken, enough that he starts to become increasingly aware of just how much he is judged by the color of his skin. ⠀

Justyce doesn’t know how to deal with this, so he starts a project with the goal of emulating Martin Luther King, Jr. in a series of letters that soon become the outlet for his fear and frustration. A project that comes to a tragic, screeching halt when he and his best friend are involved in a shooting, the fallout of which puts Justyce in the cross-hairs of the media and the general public, who insist on degrading and demeaning him.⠀

Nic Stone has written a heartbreakingly real and painfully relevant novel about the plague of systematized racism and how it continually, relentlessly tears down and dismantles Black youths. Justyce feels all too real, as a young Black man who has to work twice as hard as everybody else in order to stand on the same stage as his more privileged colleagues; as a less-than-perfect teenager just trying to figure out the trials and tribulations of adolescence, which is hard enough without the prejudice of others; as just this kid who just wants, like Martin, to face a world that never, ever lets up with all the grace and dignity of a king and just do good.⠀

The cover for my copy features a blurb by Angie Thomas, which is appropriate since this book explores the same theme as her excellent debut The Hate U Give. But whereas that book presents a more idealized conclusion of a community coming together to fight injustice, Dear Martin is, I think, a bit more realistic in its ambiguity — which just adds another layer of tragedy to the story. The ending of Dear Martin caught me off-guard, since it felt to me like there was more to the story. But there’s no neat resolution to be found here, no uplifting ending wrapped up in a bow. It ends like real-life situations often do: with uncertainty. We don’t know what’s going to happen to Justyce any more than he does. But Stone reminds us that, like Martin, we can hope, and we can dream. And maybe one day we’ll find our way towards justice.

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